THE DROWNING ROOM by Michael Pye

THE DROWNING ROOM

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Novelist and historian Pye (Maximum City, The Biography of New York, 1992, etc.) transforms the life of a historical 17th-century Dutch woman into a novel of you-are-there realism, though of a more strained psychology. Gretje Reyniers, born in 1612, loses her father (to soldiering) and her mother (to a highway accident), finding herself orphaned at the age of 12. From there on, life goes fast. Gretje's job as housemaid to a pewter-maker's family ends when the house burns down and Gretje is blamed: whereafter she drifts into begging, prostitution, marriage to the unappealing Hendrick, and passionate love with the sailor known as Anthony the Turk-- including pregnancy by same, and the giving up of daughter Anneke, immediately after birth, to an institution. Leaving Hendrick (``she knew she had to run'') and in search of the elusive Anthony, Gretje sails to New Amsterdam, her reputation as social nonconformist and sexual wanton coming with her. Living with Anthony in the raw New World, Gretje raises more than eyebrows by continuing to sell her personal services (she and Anthony are banished from Manhattan for a time, forging a life instead in the wilderness of Long Island); and yet at the same time gaining wealth by skillfully acquiring property and goods. Decades pass, however, and trouble strikes: Anthony dies in a relentlessly frozen winter; a mysteriously threatening guest arrives; and Gretje, in dark-of-night verbal duels with this mystery-person that sound as much like family- crisis melodrama as they do of their period, Gretje is forced to justify her life as she gives the retelling of it that makes up most of the novel. Dramatically strained notes aside, though, the life, detail, and texture of the time, on both sides of the Atlantic, are alluring, abundant, and vivid: from a scene of childbirth in Holland, or a whale-hunt by Indian canoe, to the ``line of timbers in the mud'' that make up New Amsterdam's ``town wall.''

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-86598-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1995




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